wildlife

Inspired by Shibaura House, a new type of office and community space

オランダ大使館の文化・デザイン関係の方の紹介で、新しいShibaura Houseを訪れて、創設者の伊東 勝さんに会いました。去年建てられたこの建物は、広告会社の事務所を兼ねたコミュニティスペースです。
妹島和世という有名な建築がガラスと鋼を使って、非常に透明で簡潔で上品な建物を作りました。アウトドアスペースがたくさんあります。伊東さんの展望を反映していて、とても型破りなのです。広告のためでないものを作りたいそうです。これから、もっと土を取り込んで植物を植える予定です。どんな活動がこんな建物を近所の良いコミュニティーにできるでしょうか。どうやって人を引き付けられますか。どのようにスペースの効果を倍にすることができますか。より良い未来を作るために、どの過去のものを使えるのか。ミツバチやニワトリや野菜やフルーツや里山の植物を育てたら面白いと思います。新しいスペースと伊東さんの創造的な力で、芝浦ハウスが成長するのを楽しみにしています。

Thanks to Mr Bas Valckx, who works in culture and design affairs at the Netherlands embassy, last month I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Ito Masaru, who has created Shibaura House as the headquarters of his advertising agency, Kohkokuseihan, and a new community space between Rainbow Bridge and Tamachi station in Minato-ku.

The building, designed by prominent Japanese architect Sejima Kazuyo of SANAA and completed in the summer of 2011, is as stunning as one could imagine: floor to ceiling glass walls, each floor plate unique, a form that combines transparency, simplicity, and elegance. There’s a sizable roof and three outdoor areas, a rectangular balcony and two curvy, double height voids.

But I was even more impressed by Mr Ito’s vision for work, community, and art. He kindly gave Bas and me a tour, which included rental areas, his company’s office, meeting spaces, and a ground floor cafe open to the public. Mr Ito is extremely knowledgable about urban planning, art history, and even permaculture.

His reason for creating Shibaura House and his plans for its future are inspiring and unconventional. He told me that his motivation for creating Shibaura House was to create the very opposite of the advertising business that he runs. And while he is pleased with how the building turned out, he is eager now to make it more alive, with more soil, people, and activity.

Too often, even in Silicon Valley, I have seen companies seek to wall themselves off from neighbors and outsiders. Global icons like Facebook, Google and Apple locate their employees in office parks, making their facilities off limits to non-employees and promoting secrecy over collaboration. I think Mr Ito’s bold vision suggests new ways to use real estate, to operate a company, and to become a vital part of local neighborhoods.

The neighborhood context is very diverse and layered: close to canals and the Tokyo Bay, near a main water processing facility, and neighbors with a variety of architectural styles from post-war, 70s residential, to more recent projects. As Bas reminded me, the area is reclaimed land from Tokyo Bay from the Edo period.

I’d love to see more plants, wildlife, and agriculture at Shibaura House. Things like bee hives, chicken coops, urban satoyama plants. It would also be great to see Shibaura House engage its neighbors with  with local food, plants, and wildlife habitat connecting buildings and waterways with green walls, roofs, and sidewalks. I am eager to see how Shibaura House grows and takes shape in the coming years.

Abandoned housing project is nature island of fruit and foliage

神宮前の路地を歩いているときに、廃墟の団地を発見しました。おそらくここに高級マンションが建てられます。この風景が破壊されるまでは、自然の島のようです。柿や紅葉や野生生物がいます。

Walking in the back streets in Jingumae, I came across this fantastic abandoned housing project. Soon the lot will no doubt be scraped and redeveloped into luxury residences with minimal landscaping. Until then, it’s an island of nature, full of persimmons, fall foliage, and wildlife.

Wildlife pets on parade near Odaiba beach

お台場で一番意外だったことは珍しい動物を見たことです。ペットをどうして飼いたいのかわかりませんでしたが、オーナーたちの愛情と公共の光景が楽しかったです。イチオピアの亀とプレーリードッグと一緒にいると、だれかが話しかけてきて、知らない人と会うことが簡単になります。

One of the unexpected pleasures of visiting Odaiba was exploring the close-knit community of exotic pet owners on the lawn just across from the artificial beach. We met an enormous Ethiopian turtle and two families of prairie dogs.

I confess that my joy for growing plants does not confer any insight into pet ownership. I personally prefer plants over animals when it comes to extra-species cohabitation. Still, I was amazed at the owners’ love for their pets and also the public spectacle they create. The pets are both extra-human companions and also intermediaries for meeting strangers of all ages.

Summer of green walls on mid-rise offices and retail buildings

節電のために、この夏は東京のどこでもグリーン・ウォール「垂直の庭」が作られています。混雑して、背が高い都市では、垂直の表面のほうが屋根より多いです。まず、杉並区役所とマンションのベランダでグリーン・カーテンが作られました。今、事務所や店の建物で、グリーン・ウォ―ルを作りはじめました。夏にグリーン・カーテンはヒートアイランド現象の緩和のために良くて、一年中、グーリン・ウォールは庭や農園や生息地を提供します。この写真を芝公園、新宿御苑前、大井町、大門で撮りました。

Spurred by the energy crisis post-Fukushima, there’s been a notable increase in the number of mid-rise office and retail buildings with green walls. In an over-built city, vertical surfaces are the largest potential area for gardening, farming, and habitat creation.

Tokyo has far more vertical surfaces than roof areas, and we are only at the very beginning of creating an urban forest.

I have been following this topic for a while, and have watched this idea spread from notable public spaces like Suginami’s ward office (world’s largest green curtain) to apartment balconies, flower shops, and now commercial and retail spaces. This wide distribution across Tokyo and across building types is very exciting to see.

Some questions I have include:

  • What types of plants can be grown vertically and for what functions: aesthetics, habitat, scent, seasonal change, food?
  • How can green walls enhance innovative architecture and place-making?
  • How can vertical and roof gardens connect buildings, neighbors, and wildlife?
  • What is the impact on heat island effect, global competitiveness, and quality of life?

The answers will come from experimentation and diffusion. The photos, from top to bottom, are four green walls I’ve recently seen:

1. Hasegawa Green Building in Shiba Koen

2. Office mid-rise in Shinjuku Gyoen-mae (2 photos). The company that created and maintains this green wall is called Ishikatsu Exterior (石勝イクステリア).

3. Oimachi retail building near station.

4. Daimon office building.

Shrine shelters two enormous trees in Roka-koen

木のあいだから、富士山が見える。神社のおかげで、このふたつの木は大きくなりました。

Recently I was helping my friend Matt making bonsais in his Roka-koen apartment in Setagaya when I saw this incredible sunset. This is his view looking west from his fifth floor apartment. It’s amazing how dense Tokyo is, and how far the city spreads out from the center.

A small Shinto shrine is the reason that these two giant trees are still there. Dating back perhaps to just after the war, these trees seem to be an important stepping stone for neighborhood and regional birds. With the clear winter skies and the leaves gone, you can see Mount Fuji through the trees.

Why aren’t mature trees recognized as a vital urban resource? How can these small islands of nature be connected with larger parks and other micro-green spaces? What is the role of Shinto as a religion and as thousands of property owners in supporting urban wildlife?

Welcome rabbit sumo wrestling for 2011

うさぎの相撲は楽しいかな。

Pink Tentacle has assembled a collection of historic new year’s cards (年賀状, nengajou) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Seeing all these different rabbits featured in vibrant designs with national and cultural messages is a delight and inspiration. The one above is from 1927 1915 (via Twitter’s @hizaga). I wonder whether we’ll be seeing more rabbits this year in Tokyo: as food, companions, or wildlife?

Pasona’s vertical garden fills out near Nihonbashi

高層オフィスビルの垂直な庭はオフィス街を活気のある場所にする。

One office tower’s vertical garden brings new life to Tokyo’s business district.

Pasona’s headquarter’s vertical garden is filling out and bringing new life to the crowded office streetscape between Nishonbashi and Tokyo Station. The lushly planted wall includes many traditional Japanese garden plants and imports such as blueberry bushes. I like how it contrasts with the surrounding office towers, from the 1980s to recent years, and demonstrates that the potential for office wall gardens to benefit everyone inside and outside the building.

It’s amazing how much the garden has grown since I last visited Pasona in May. I am very excited to see this corporate garden become a landmark in the Yaesu district. It would be great for Mori or Mitsubishi to follow this example and experiment with vertical gardens and wildlife habitats on much taller Tokyo buildings. I also hope that Pasona continues to innovate with its urban landscape. Sidewalk gardens? More fruit trees? Butterfly hatcheries? Honeybees? Falcon’s nests?

Below are some details photos, including leaves that have turned red this fall, and some late-in-the-year pink roses.

TEDxSeeds presentation (English, 日本語) on Japan as world leader in living cities

TEDxSeedsのプレゼンテーションをご覧ください。「日本を都市生物多様性のリーダーにするために」がテーマです。

Please have a look at my recent TEDxSeeds presentation about making Japan a world leader in living cities.

This TEDxSeeds presentation, with English and Japanese captions, looks at how Japan can become a world leader in living cities. Despite Tokyo being the world’s largest city with a history of poor design, there are many opportunities for creating plant life and wildlife habitat. My goal for next year is to work with city governments, corporations, community groups, railway companies, and others to plan and implement creative public spaces that connect urban life with nature.

Wildness in unused land by rail tracks

I have been thinking about the urban corridors and the distributed real estate that connect city people literally and experientially. Everything from rail lines that take us where we are going to convenience stores that make us feel that we are in the same place no matter where we are. Rail companies and retail chains own or operate so much real estate to make them second only to governments in terms of land ownership and possibilities for remaking our environment.

I love the chaotic, multi-directional rail lines in Yoyogi- two sets of elevated lines and street-grade lines taking traffic from Shinjuku to other parts of Tokyo, towns and resorts to the west, and across Japan. As a pedestrian, the rail crossings slow down your walk and make you aware of the millions of people circulating in Tokyo.

I’ve blogged before about the cool wildflowers with some unplanned cultivation on the sides of the tracks. The rail companies must be concerned about safety, including keeping neighbors safe and also minimizing garbage on the tracks. Yet it’s great that this land exists in a semi-wild state, and cool that it’s so accessible in Yoyogi. I wonder what further uses the lands beside rail tracks and stations could have in cities, suburbs, and countryside. Wildlife habitat, small farms, recreation, bee hives, or other uses.

 

A mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife

Takahashi Yusuke, a database expert with a Keio PhD, and I created a poster for the URBIO conference last month introducing a mobile app for city residents to monitor and promote urban wildlife.

In brief, our mobile app entitled UBITS (Urban Biodiversity Identification and Tracking System) allows school children, bird watchers, gardeners, hobbyists, and amateur naturalists use their mobile phones to capture images, sounds and locations of birds, butterflies, bees, insects, trees, and other plant life; query multiple databases to identify wildlife and plant species; participate in collaborative mapping of urban species by location, frequency and time of year; and increase habitat for urban biodiversity.

The project is at concept stage, and it would be great to find a start-up, corporation or university that can fund a working prototype and launch this application for iPhone or Android. Participatory science that promotes increased habitat provides an excellent branding opportunity, educational tool, and new way to bring nature to the city.

Replacing Dead Urban Spaces with Living Habitat

The Huffington Post published my new article, Replacing Dead Urban Spaces with Living Habitat. Please read, comment, retweet, or share on Facebook. Thank you!

Figure 1: Two views of camellia (sazanka) in central Tokyo: close-up and context

Live video of falcon nest on downtown San Francisco office tower

Wow! San Francisco’s gas company (Pacific Gas & Electric) has set up a live webcam so you can the peregrine falcon nest on top of their downtown office tower. Four chicks were hatched on April 8 and 10.

What a cool way to support wildlife in the city and the popular interest that sustains urban habitats. The project is a partnership with UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research, and there’s a Yahoo discussion group.

US military protects wildlife and habitat on bases

US Military in Iraq, February 2008. Photo by Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

I am still trying to grok this news from the New York Times promoting the US military’s role in wildlife and habitat preservation on its 270,000 acres of bases in the US. Some of the activities sound ridiculous: like carving holes in trees “so the woodpeckers did not have to toil for six months carving the nests themselves.” On the other hand, controlled burning probably does increase wildlife habitat.

There is a realism beneath this change in policy: by preserving wildlife the military reduces the number of species designated as endangered and allows the military more freedom to to conduct training on their lands.

It’s hard for me to support the idea of nature preservation which will then allow more destruction. Does nature really benefit from bullets, tanks and bombs? But the cold logic behind this policy suggest that almost any large organization can find benefits in supporting bio-diversity. Despite the PR nature of this story and the ultimately violent nature of this organization, the military’s change in attitude about its role as a property owner is at once revolting and cause for optimism.

(Check out New York Times video, too).

Coyotes in Manhattan

Coyotes have recently been spotted in New York’s Central Park, and at Columbia University. It’s funny to see these reports while I am reading Marie Winn’s charming book about urban wildlife called Central Park in the Dark, in which she chronicles her and other amateur naturalists’ obsessions with city bats, birds, moths, mice and other creatures. Her website includes “latest news”: http://www.mariewinn.com/marieblog/.

Mori Building plans ecological zones in Tokyo

Nikkei article about Mori Building’s plan for central Tokyo ecological zones. The idea is that wildlife can spread out from interconnected large green spaces, including existing parks and large-scale developments owned by Mori Building.

The article is in Japanese, and came to my attention because of Twitter’s Tzuchiya, who regularly posts excellent links on urban ecology topics in English and Japanese.

Although less interesting to Mori Building, I am also curious about the role of micro-gardens in habitat creation.

高層ビルの谷間にあるサントリーホールの屋上庭園 | Nikkei